With Super Bowl LV now behind us and none of the four NFC East teams landing within sniffing distance of the Lombardi trophy for yet another season, it's time for each to hit the reset button and hope for better days on the nearing horizon. The COVID-19 pandemic shook up the entire NFL by shutting down the offseason, save for a truncated training camp, and teams that underwent a mountain of change were truly up against a wall -- e.g., the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and the Washington Football Team. Both swept in a regime change in their coaching ranks and lack of an ability to prepare in traditional fashion handicapped them massively, en route to no one in the division finishing with more than seven wins.
Things got spicy in December as the Cowboys heated up and nearly stole away the NFC East crown from Washington, but they ultimately laid an egg in the regular season finale against the New York Giants, who then had a shot at taking the throne themselves if not for Doug Pederson's decision to lay down and die in controversial fashion against Ron Rivera's bunch only hours later. And, as expected, Washington was dismissed on NFL Super Wild-Card Weekend to mercifully end one of the worst years in the division's history.
It doesn't have to be that way for 2021, however, and especially if each team addresses their top needs over the next several months. There's no one fix-all for any of them, so they'd better get to work ASAP on the following blueprints.
[Note: Cap space figures provided by Spotrac, and will change once official salary cap is finalized for 2021.]
Needs: QB, iDL, LB, CB, S, OT
It's unfathomable to consider quarterback as a need for the Cowboys in 2021 but, as I pen this in mid-February, that is precisely the bed they've made for themselves. By not striking a deal with Dak Prescott in either of the previous two seasons, they're now faced with either doing so quickly or placing a second franchise tag on him -- worth $37.7 million -- as a placeholder to buy themselves until July 15 to get a multi-year deal done. Both sides have continuously committed to making it happen and while it likely (and finally) might be, it's not done until it's done. Expect Prescott to be in a Cowboys uniform this season by hook or by crook but, absent a long-term deal, the Cowboys will probably find themselves looking for a new franchise QB in 2022.
Other than that, offensively speaking, Dallas is mostly set -- the caveat being they may have to start mulling life after Tyron Smith at left tackle. All signs thus far point to both Smith and starting right tackle La'El Collins returning to form from season-ending injury, but to deny the durability issues on the former would be foolish. Either identify his successor on the current roster (Brandon Knight? Connor Williams?) or draft one, but not with the first two picks (unless Penei Sewell miraculously falls to No. 10), because the kitchen sink needs to be thrown at the defense this offseason -- and Donovan Wilson and -- making a deal for Prescott that much more important as it relates to having the cap space to maneuver going forward.
Estimated current cap space (top 51): $27.77 million
CBS draft projections: Patrick Surtain, II - CB (Ryan Wilson and Chris Trapasso), Kyle Pitts - TE (Josh Edwards)
Washington Football Team
Needs: QB, WR, LB, CB, OL
I promised you there'd be a common theme in all of this, and I'm a man of my word. As we dive into the ongoings in Washington, yes, we're back to discussing a need at quarterback for an NFC East team. Alex Smith's return to the game was nothing short of miraculous and he deserved every iota of the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award, but he's not the future at the position. As recently as 2019, owner Dan Snyder hoped it would be Dwayne Haskins, but he's now been released and signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers after a toxic two years with the Football Team, leaving (primarily) only Taylor Heinicke as having the most promise for 2021 and beyond. Needless to say, while Heinicke has potential, there's no time like the present for Washington to get in on the QB headline dance encompassing the NFL this offseason, even if it costs them a pretty penny to do so.
They're going to have to give up something in one way or another, because if they don't add an impact QB1 in free agency, they might have to make a trade to move up from the 19th-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to grab a falling one.
Once they figure out who'll be under center, the next step has to be adding weaponry to the WR unit to help take the heat off of an uber-talented Terry McLaurin. Thanks to the emergence of tight end Logan Thomas, McLaurin has at least had some aid, but Washington knows it could stand to add more firepower to the passing attack. They appear to be all set at running back with a stable of bodies behind a very capable Antonio Gibson, and their offensive line is young and getting better by the week (but could be helped by another addition), so the needle is pointing due north for this team going forward -- pressure being on them to fix the most important position on the field. Defensively, they have needs, but nothing dire like the other three NFC East teams, although I'd add a game-changing middle linebacker and cornerback to the mix, knowing I have the salary cap to do it.
Estimated current cap space (top 51): $41.87 million
CBS draft projections: Christian Darrisaw - OL (Wilson), Mac Jones - QB (Trapasso), Jaycee Horn - CB (Edwards)
Needs: QB, WR, TE, LB, CB, S
Ah, another NFC East team with an issue at quarterback (get used to that theme here). The difference is the Eagles have a much more dire situation than that of the Cowboys, because Dallas has at least identified its definitive QB1. That's not the case in Philadelphia, as they try Jalen Hurts is his successor. That said, they'll likely need to pull the trigger on drafting a quarterback with a top pick for a second consecutive year, and fixing the offense won't stop once they figure out the answer to that equation. Quite the contrary, actually, because while they look rather set at running back, they have a lot to sift through on their offensive line and at both tight end and wide receiver.and his accompanying contract without knowing for certain
They can take solace in the presence and emergence of Dallas Goedert, but if they're either , Goedert will need a potent complement to keep opposing defenses off-balance. This will be even more true if there's no aid thrown at the WR unit -- Jalen Reagor showing flashes but not in the same tone as CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy or Justin Jefferson -- and DeSean Jackson can't stay upright long enough to provide aid to Alshon Jeffery in the passing game. The OL has a chance to be solid when healthy, but requires attention depth-wise, and it's crystal clear the defense has a lot of work to do itself. Get Darius Slay some help, and immediately, or the starting QB better be able to average 30 points per game. But when you toss in how massively over the cap the Eagles are right now, general manager Howie Roseman is basically trying to untie his straight jacket using his teeth.
Estimated current cap space (top 51): -$41.51 million (yes, minus)
CBS draft projections: Ja'Marr Chase - WR (Wilson), Devonta Smith - WR (Trapasso), Patrick Surtain, II - CB (Edwards)
New York Giants
Needs: OL, WR, RB, QB, EDGE, CB
I mean, you could pretend you've come to the decision Daniel Jones is the quarterback of the future for the Giants, but should you do such a thing? The reality is Jones still has a lot to prove in New York, but the good news is he's shown flashes of what he might become, although the bad news is he's shown flashes of what he might become. One one hand, he's a playmaker with both his arm and legs that can swing games in favor of the Giants but, on the other, he's a liability who finds the worst possible time to turn the ball over. All told, he's worth trying to figure out, but not without an insurance policy of some sort -- even if it you hold off until 2022 to buy the policy. You can help Jones out massively by upgrading a porous o-line that is mostly ignored perennially, and the return of all-world running back Saquon Barkley.
And speaking of Barkley, backup Wayne Gallman is headed for free agency. However you slice it, they're going to need another impact body at the position, along with a wideout to complement Sterling Shepard at wideout, unless you want to keep Golden Tate on the roster at a salary of $8.48 million in 2021 (barring a pay cut). From there, bolster the defensive edges and follow up the master stroke signing of James Bradberry with another in the secondary and get back to the bullying ways of Big Blue of yesteryear, something that would take pressure off of Jones to become a superhero., that remains to be seen and his wildly promising NFL career is thus far anchored with durability issues. Assuming New York does keep the former second-overall pick around for the long haul, they can't guarantee he won't miss games, and
Estimated current cap space (top 51): $8.11 million
CBS draft projections: Alijah Vera-Tucker - OL (Wilson), Kyle Pitts - TE (Trapasso), Devonta Smith - WR (Edwards)